We have a medium sized wood stove that fired up really easily when we had it installed, but as the days grew colder, we began having problems with smoky backdrafts. Backdrafts can occur for a number of reasons. Something blocking airflow in the chimney, like a bird’s nest, can cause smoke to back up into the room. Likewise, a dirty chimney, a poorly installed flue, or malfunctioning dampeners can cause this problem.

Since our stove is brand new and worked perfectly initially, we ruled out the above potential problems and settled on the most obvious one: a cold chimney pipe. A chimney that’s located outside the house, rather than straight up through the roof, will get cold over night. In the morning when you try to light a fire, the outside air is likely to be colder and heavier than the air inside your house. That heavy outside air will push down through the chimney, pushing the the smoke inside a still-cold stove out into the room.

What a mess.

We tried lighting a small newspaper fire at the back of the stove, hoping to warm the air in the stove enough to reverse the draft. It didn’t work. We still got smoke pouring out of the stove into the room. Finally we hit on a solution. We have a small electric table-top heater, about the size of a food processor.

After we’ve cleaned up the ashes in the stove, we set the heater on a low stool in front with the stove door wide open. I run the heater on high for about two minutes. It doesn’t take long for the interior of the stove to warm up enough to reverse the draft. Now I can start my fire and know that the smoke will go up the chimney and not into my face.